by Ray and Josephine Cowdery, Rapid City, SD
Born in 1925, Franz Morawa was no different from other young Austrian men growing up in a land that had recently become a part of Germany. Educated as an engineer, he had completed his Reichsarbeitsdienst obligatory labor service in August of 1942 and registered for conscription into the armed forces. His father, Franz Sr., had served in the Artillery in World War I and had been a practicing engineer in civilian life between the wars. When World War II began he was called up in the Luftwaffe and his abilities were put to use constructing airports. He was sent to Würzburg and then to France. While working in Russia Franz's father was listed as missing in action on 12 January 1942 in the area of Smolensk.
Because of his background in civil engineering and because he worked for the railway, young Franz became Landser 1351 in a Railway Engineering Replacement Battalion for training at Korneuburg in August of 1943. Upon completion of basic training his unit went to an advanced mountain engineering school near Innsbruck. They trained in every aspect that any other Railway Pionier unit in the German army would, plus they trained as mountain troops. Members of the Stammkompanie Eisenbahn Pioniere Ersatz Battalion 2 dressed in uniforms that included a Bergmütze (mountain cap) and Bergschuhe (mountain boots).
Skiing and climbing were as much a part of the curriculum as transit work, measuring and construction. The really special training received at the school near Innsbruck was in constructing and using bridges, lifts and aerial tramways in military situations in mountainous terrain. Franz's unit was one of only four similar units in the entire Wehrmacht. One of the most mountainous places the Germans were defending against Allied incursions and sabotage in 1944 was Norway.
Franz Morawa was ordered to Norway in July 1944. On 20 July 1944 while crossing the border from Germany into Denmark by train, his commanding officer told the troops that they should be prepared to defend themselves against possible attack in Denmark. He revealed that an attempt had been made on the life of Adolf Hitler at the Wolfís Lair in East Prussia! They had weapons but incredibly had been issued no ammunition.
Upon arrival in Norway the first order of business for the Pionier unit was to construct a new barracks near the picturesque town of Stommen. No camp existed so it was necessary to clear the land, engineer the project, make a survey and then construct the buildings from prefabricated wooden wall, window and door units.
Two months before the end of the war the 250 men in the company were transferred to a regular engineering outfit on the coast. On 10 May 1945, a British and an American Colonel appeared in Mandel and explained that, "You now work for us". The troops were not immediately disarmed, but went about their business in uniform much as they had before the Allies arrived.
In July 1945 a Hauptmann and Battalion Commander named Rolfs of Sturmboot Kommando 901 brought Gefreiter Franz Morawa's Soldbuch up to date and paid him. It looked like he was on his way back to Vienna. Back in continental Europe, his train itinerary was to take him via Salzburg in central Austria to Vienna in the east. He was accidentally sent via Stassbourg, a city on the French border 400 kilometers west of Salzburg! Arriving in Strassbourg he and the other German soldiers traveling with him were immediately seized by French soldiers and unceremonially thrown into a Prisoner of War camp. He spent most of a year as a "guest" of the French and referred to them as "frogs" to the end of his life.
Franz Morawa emigrated to the United States after the war, changed his name to Frank, and established himself in a successful career as an electrical engineer. He died in Rapid City on 30 September 2008, three months after his wife Elsie, a war bride from Germany. Frank and Elsie are buried at Pine Lawn Cemetery in Rapid City, South Dakota.